‘Disgraced’ documentary examines Coach Dave Bliss

It seems the verdict is still out on how corrupt or how changed a man is former NCAA basketball coach Dave Bliss. In the documentary, Disgraced, airing this month on Showtime, Bliss first denies any wrong doing relating to the investigation of the death of one of his former players, and yet admits he had made mistakes.

It was Friday, June 13, 2003, when Baylor basketball star Patrick Dennehy went missing. That was the day all eyes of the country turned toward Coach Bliss and the Baylor basketball program. Prior to that day, not much thought was given to Baylor basketball, around the country, nor even in Texas.

“At that time, it was like Baylor basketball was sort of just there, nobody paid much attention to it at all,” said Danny Robbins in the documentary. Robins is a reporter for the Star-Telegram newspaper.

However, Robbins said, Baylor was and is like any other NCAA university when it comes to athletics.

“The fact that Baylor is Baylor and it’s the world’s largest Baptist institution, and it’s had conservative rules over the years, does not apply to the athletic program,” Robbins said. “The athletic program is a big-time athletic program where winning is paramount.”

The documentary delves into Dennehy’s death, those that were suspects, and the cover up by Bliss and the university. The folks at Baylor attempted to fabricate a story to cover up the fact that Dennehy and others were getting paid to play at Baylor, that Dennehy wasn’t on scholarship, but his schooling was being paid for by Bliss, and the coach had bought Dennehy a vehicle. They feared if this information came out in the police investigation of Dennehy’s death, the NCAA would severely punish the school.

On July 21, 2003, 32 days after Dennehy went missing, Carlton Dotson, a friend and teammate of Dennehy’s, confessed to a pair of FBI agents that he had shot Dennehy, in a field where they practiced shooting their hand guns. Dotson claimed Dennehy had aimed and shot his gun at him, but it didn’t fire, so Dotson shot back, he claimed in self-defense.

Dotson gave the police an idea of where the shooting took place, but the search for Dennehy’s body was difficult as the grass had grown around his decaying corpse. When the autopsy and forensics were performed, it showed Dennehy was shot in the head twice – once while standing up and once after falling to the ground. This led investigators to believe Dotson wasn’t acting in self-defense.

Baylor assistant coach Abar Rouse, secretly recorded conversations with Bliss, in which Bliss said “There is nobody right now that can say that we paid Pat Dennehy, because he’s dead. So, what we have to do is create the reasonable doubt. I’ve got like 30 years, I’ve never talked to an NCAA investigator. Okay, so, that stands for something.”

In the recording, Bliss goes on to describe a concocted story he wants his players to all tell of how they would go to Dennehy’s apartment and do drugs together and that he was selling drugs. This would help explain how Dennehy could pay for his schooling and his vehicle, Bliss thought. The investigators never found evidence that Dennehy was selling drugs to anyone, on or off campus.

“He was selling drugs, he sold to all the white guys on campus,” Bliss said in an interview for the documentary.

The interviewer responds, “How is that? No…I never…I haven’t found that at all.”

“I know, but I’m telling you, but you’ll never be able to use this,” Bliss said, thinking at this point he’s speaking off the record and that this part of the interview won’t make it to the final edit of the documentary. Obviously, he was wrong.

“Why wasn’t that ever in…I mean, no police report, no…,” the interviewer asked.

“Because they were so busy hanging me,” Bliss said. “They [the police] knew all that stuff, that’s why the police never went after me with a felony or misdemeanor, or anything. He [Dennehy] was rampant and all the players knew it.”

“I just can’t go there. I ended up settling with the Dennehy family, because they made a civil suit against me, and it’s not for a lot of money or anything like that, but it was easier to make it go away. Because I didn’t do anything. I said bad things about their kid, but you know unfortunately, the parents also knew he was a druggie, so what I did was I got in the mud with the pigs and I paid a price, and the pigs liked it.”

Some of Dennehy’s friends still believe Harvey Thomas knows more about what happened then he’s ever said. Thomas was an incoming junior college transfer that summer, and some said he and his cousin Larry Johnson were threatening Dennehy and Dotson with a gun.

Rouse was given money by the coaching staff to buy Johnson a bus ticket back to Virginia. This was even before Dennehy’s body was found.

“I became concerned about why Larry was asked to leave town so quickly and why I was tasked with putting him on a bus,” Rouse said. “I prayed that it wasn’t because he had done something.”

Thomas and Johnson were never connected to Dennehy’s death, nor were they ever charged with a crime.

Bliss now claims to have repented of his past wrong doings, and has turned back to God. He has been invited to speak at Fellowship of Christian Athletes events, including one in Tulsa, in July 2015.

Bliss received a 10-year show-cause ban from coaching by the NCAA, for his role in the violations at Baylor, but never faced criminal charges. Southwest Christian University, in Bethany, Oklahoma, hired Bliss in April 2015, to coach the basketball team. The school felt that Bliss was a changed man and that he learned from his past mistakes.

The documentary premiered on April 1 and on April 3, Bliss resigned from SCU.

A statement released by SCU, read that the school’s President Dr. Reggies Wenyika, affirmed his commitment to seeking new leadership in a manner that is consistent with the University’s beliefs, standards, and policies, as a duty to our Christian heritage of providing a values-driven education, and accountability to our stakeholders and the public good.

“I accepted Coach Bliss’ resignation earlier today and our prayers and wishes are with him as he transitions,” Dr. Wenyika said.

Rouse, now a teacher in a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, said in the documentary he doesn’t believe Bliss is a changed man.

“Coach Bliss has said that he is sorry and he deserves a second chance, and has asked for redemption,” Rouse said. “I can’t buy into it. I can’t believe it, and it’s not because I don’t believe in redemption or second chances. It’s because I work with criminals on a constant basis. I know what fake redemption looks like and I know what real redemption looks like.”

The question of whether Dotson was competent enough to stand trial came up during the proceedings, and ultimately, Dotson pled guilty and was sentenced to 35 years. He is currently serving his sentence at Connally Unit Prison in Texas, and will be eligible for parole in 2021. He declined to be interviewed for the documentary.

As for Bliss, the verdict is still out. Someday he’ll face the ultimate judge and only God knows what truly happened the summer of 2003.